11.2.1  Advantages of breastmilk

Promoting exclusive breastfeeding in infants up to six months old is important. As a Health Extension Practitioner you should encourage the mother to breastfeed her infant and not to give any other food or fluids in the first six months. You learned in Study Session 10 the different ways you can support a mother to breastfeed effectively. There are good reasons for promoting breastfeeding and these are outlined below.

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months will give an infant the best chance to grow and stay healthy.

Some of the advantages of breastmilk/breastfeeding

  • Breastmilk contains the necessary nutrients needed by an infant
  • The nutrients in breastmilk are easily absorbed
  • It provides all the water an infant needs, even in a hot, dry climate
  • It protects an infant against infection
  • Breastfeeding helps maternal-infant bonding
  • Breastfeeding helps in child spacing, and facilitates uterine contractions thereby reducing post-partum bleeding
  • It may also reduce the mother’s risk of ovarian and breast cancers.

Some of the disadvantages of replacement (formula) feeding

  • It reduces breastmilk production and intake
  • It predisposes the infant to infections
  • If dilute, replacement food will lead to malnutrition
  • The infant may have difficulties digesting and absorbing nutrients from breastmilk substitutes
  • Replacement food could lead to allergic diseases
  • Replacement food could increase the risk of persistent diarrhoea.
  • How can a mother ensure the infant receives the nutrient-rich breastmilk?

  • You should advise the mother to empty the first breast before switching to the second, as this will ensure that the infant receives the hind milk.

  • Why should you advise the mother to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months?

  • Breastfeeding is the optimal way of feeding an infant in the first six months of life. Additionally it has a lot of health benefits for the mother. If the mother replaces breastmilk with other drinks or food, there are risks to the infant’s health.

11.2  Recommendations for infants up to six months old

11.3  Recommendations for infants from six to 12 months